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Sex With Lobbyist Not A ‘Thing Of Value’ Says State Ethics Commission

Courtesy of the North Carolina State Ethics Commission

A lobbyist is sleeping with a politician. Does this count as a gift under state law? An act of goodwill? A way to gain access? No this isn’t a political joke, at least not to the North Carolina State Ethics Commission. They were asked these very questions and recently ruled consensual sex between politicians and lobbyists is A-OK.

We don’t know who is involved – but we have a good idea of where the bureaucrat or politician works. This ethics ruling was in response to a request from North Carolina Secretary of State’s office.

The subject line of the ruling reads:

Sexual Favors or Sexual Acts as a gift or “Thing of Value”

North Carolina law sets monetary limits on what lobbyists can give to lawmakers and bureaucrats. Anything over $10 a day must be reported. In kind and goodwill gifts are regulated as well. The standard there is a bit more murky; 'if a reasonable person would conclude the gifts were for the purpose of lobbying.' In other words, gaining in influence.

This ruling is about an adult relationship, where both parties consent. And meeting your paramour at work isn’t all that uncommon, even for lawmakers says Stephen Spaulding, policy council for the national political watchdog group Common Cause.

"You have plenty of members of Congress and state legislators that are married to registered lobbyists."

What matters ethically, he says, is the intent of that relationship. "If the intent is to move a client's agenda forward I think that raises all kinds of ethical concerns and the conflict of interests are just more than apparent."

But even the appearance of impropriety can have an effect. And has been an issue here in the past says Michael Bitzer, "and that would have been under former House speaker Thom Tillis."

In 2012, two of Tillis’s senior staff resigned after it was learned they were in relationships with lobbyists. Which Bitzer says, "raised real concerns about a quid pro quo." And despite this ruling by the state ethics commission, which found that since these kind of relations have no monetary value - they’re permissible, those concerns about a quid pro quo are bound to remain.

And what of adult relations that hinge on the exchange of money? Despite bringing up the illegality of prostitution the Ethics Commission found;

Paid prostitution services by a third party to a designated individual could constitute a gift or thing of value.

A designated individual by the way is a politician or bureaucrat.   

Now, sure, the word prostitution stood out to you. But you should also focus on the word could. "Words have meaning," says Bitzer,  "and that one word is something that could open it up or not."

Because it means prostitution could constitute a gift – or - it could not.